The Grierson Trust submission to DCMS on the proposed privatisation of Channel 4

The Grierson Trust submission to DCMS on the proposed privatisation of Channel 4

The Grierson Trust made its submission on the proposed privatisation of Channel 4 to DCMS today. As one of the leading voices in the UK documentary and factual television industry, the submission focuses on Channel 4’s pivotal role within the industry and the three areas which The Grierson Trust insists should be protected in any changes of ownership: investment in the nations and regions; commitment to young people and new talent; and, championing diverse voices.

Lorraine Heggessey, Chair of The Grierson Trust said: “We believe that one of the reasons British documentary makers are recognised as world class is the unique broadcasting landscape and ecology of the UK television sector. Channel 4 has a distinctive role in this, which is different to the licence-fee funded BBC and to the commercial ad- funded PSBs, ITV and Channel 5 who have to deliver a profit for shareholders rather than putting any profits back into programming. The fact that Channel 4 sits alongside not just the other PSBs but also a flourishing range of channels from providers such as Sky and more recently from the streamers, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime brings a richness to the documentary sector that would be lost if Channel 4’s remit is not preserved.”

Investment in the nations and regions

The Grierson Trust highlighted Channel 4’s extensive work outside London – both in terms of financial investment and the creation of job opportunities: it currently supports 3,000 jobs across the UK, and over 50% of its spend in 20/21 was outside London. It also provides pivotal support and investment for start-ups and small independent production companies including through its Indie Growth Fund, having already invested £12bn in the sector. It has been a catalyst for the creative industries outside the capital and has fuelled plurality of voices, commissioning over 300 production companies to make more hours of TV than any other commercial PSB, of which factual commissions outnumber any other genre in terms of independent production.

A gateway for young people

The Trust also emphasised Channel 4’s role as a place for young people – whether they are audiences, contributors or creatives. More than 90% of 18-34s are reached by Channel 4’s portfolio of channels putting it ahead of LadBible, Disney and the BBC; 80% are signed up to streaming platform, All4. It has also led the way in innovation and platform partnerships with YouTube and TikTok, taking its content direct to its audience. For creatives, the broadcaster commits to skills building and industry training – over 5,000 people have benefitted since 2015, providing vital talent pipelines for the sector and a way in for newcomers to the industry. In doing so it helps to sustain and diversify the documentary workforce in the UK across geography, gender, ethnicity, social background and more.

Giving voices to the unheard

The Trust believes that Channel 4 plays a crucial in improving diversity within the industry and ensuring that the future of the documentary genre involves a rich variety of voices. Its current role and remit as a PSB means that its metrics for success go way beyond simply measuring viewing figures, which allows Channel 4 to commission riskier programming, providing a platform for innovation as well as for complex and specialist pieces. In addition to providing important funding streams for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic-led indies through its Accelerator scheme which specifically seeks different perspectives, Channel 4’s wider factual programming portfolio has embraced diversity : from the Paralympics and Undateables, which redefined programming involving people with a disability to its engagement with social issues such Hair Power: Me and My Afro, Damilola: The Boy Next Door, Ramadan in Lockdown and Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and The Menopause.

Lorraine Heggessey sums up: “This societal value of Channel 4 is at risk in a for-profit model if ratings and profits to shareholders are prioritised above these other metrics. It is critical that the conditions of any sale are explicit and measurable in order to ensure that these core values which make a large contribution to the sustainability and growth of the UK’s creative sector are retained.”

Published: 14 September 2021

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